August 2012 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Mac Donnell Rare books

Catalogue Review: Mac Donnell Rare Books, #50

If I didn't know that Mac Donnell Rare Books is based in Austin, Texas, I might have guessed New England after surveying catalogue #50. The ABAA bookseller specializes in literary first editions, and its recent list is full of Massachusetts Transcendentalists and Romantics -- Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and Herman Melville.

Of the many books offered, two particular titles in this area interested me. First: Autograph Leaves of Our Country's Authors, 1864, edited John Pendleton Kennedy and Alexander Bliss. Says the catalogue: "The best literary anthology ever published in the nineteenth century ... entirely lithographed, reproducing the original manuscripts of each contribution" ($850). Sounds like a book I'd cherish. Second: an 1839 first edition of Jones Very's Essays and Poems, containing family inscriptions ($500).

On another note, Mac Donnell has "the rarest American edition of any Bronte sisters' work, and here it its rarest format": the first American edition of Anne Bronte's 1848 double-decker, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, in original brown printed wrappers ($15,000). 

Two other non-book items manifest the nature of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literary fame and objectified authorship. A signed photograph of William Dean Howells, c. 1920, shows him posed with pen in one hand and glasses in the other, with an inkwell and manuscripts under his gaze ($500). An earlier photograph, c. 1880-1895, measuring 2" x 2", of John Greenleaf Whittier is mounted under a piece of octagonal beveled glass with faux morocco backing ($75). Mac Donnell calls it "a charming relic and the only one of its kind that we have encountered."

If these subjects are as appealing to you as they are to me, check out Mac Donnell's inventory of more than 3,000 volumes online here: